June ‘14
Insight Interview

June ‘14
Ahmed Wahdan
Ahmed Wahdan


    


To my surprise, he is a simple, humble, down to earth man with a lot of potentials for the future. Ahmed Wahdan, the master creator of 'Tabla' and 'Sky Bar' opened to us about his journey, future plans and a lot more'¦

Do you have an explanation for this?

They like to relate to something they are not.


What is the difference between having a club in Dubai and a club in Egypt?

I enjoy Egypt much more as an operation, there is nothing like a regular loyal customer in Dubai, there are hundreds of clubs in Dubai. People go where they find a good offer. It is all about social media and that we don't have here. Here is much more fulfilling as an operation.


What can you tell us about yourself?

I am a very humble person, I am not a businessperson like it comes in the book, not at all, I follow my instinct and that's it.


Then, how did your journey in the business begin?

It started by complete coincidence back in 2007, when Emar launched Marasi, they asked me to start a night venue, which I never did before. At the beginning, I refused then they pushed and I did it and it was a big hit. In 2009, I was approached by Palm hills and that's when I came up with the idea of Sky Bar, and we did the first venue on the beach, then the next year we decided to take it bigger and we built the venue in the back. 2011, I decided not to work in the summer, but I was pushed by a friend of mine, DR. Nassif Kouzman to do something with Emar again. The team of Emar at that time was fabulous, they made everything so easy for me and it was only a 10-day operation and we introduced 'Tabla' to Sahel for the first time. The normal trend and concept of 'Tabla' is 'Be yourself'! We don't want stuck up people, we don't want people to show of; we just want people that are coming to enjoy. People were very supportive, and it was a hit in my opinion. We did few changes in the venue last year and again it was a big hit. It was all about introducing talents that will mingle with people. We brought several artists that are very famous and well known. This year we built our own venue, which is a surprise I have been working on for the last few years discreetly. I built a venue exactly according to how I think a venue should be like, which is very similar to the 'Sky Bar' venue. The most important thing in the club is that everybody can see everybody, and this comes with the levelling. We built a new place which is like an Arena, we will be the first club in Egypt with 365 degrees screening all around; it is something you should see.


You kept saying, 'I was pushed to do', why?

You know, you can call a chicken, when I start something it takes me a long time to decide if I want to do it. It's not a nice life when you're running a night venue, It's 24 hours work, because I get involved in every single detail in the venue, from the reservation, to the seating, the door, security, music, the lights, the performers, etc'¦ I don't even tell my staff what performers do we have, I do this one myself and never announce it. Because, first of all I don't charge people extra for the shows I bring. Second, the whole thing about 'Tabla' is we go to 'Tabla' because we like to be in 'Tabla'. There is no schedule in 'Tabla', never was, never will be. Dubai is a bit different you have to pre-announce. In Egypt we have our own clients, we are very loyal to them, they are very loyal to us, and we do whatever we can to make them go home happy.


How can you describe your journey?

Luck! I work hard, but it's God's gratification, luck and the proper treatment for people. You can have the best place in the world and people will go to it, but if you're not treating people right and you are not nice to them, they will never forget anything bad you did to them. They may still come to your place, but one day a better place with better treatment will happen and they will go to it. It is a scale that you need to perfect, you shouldn't upset people, you should be very apologetic when you need to be, if they don't have a place, you have to accommodate them in another way, call them to keep the relationship, that's how you need to do it.


Well, that brings me to my next question; actually I hear nothing but the best about you from all your team, what's your secret?

We are one family we don't have titles. Anyone who comes to be hired at one of the companies, the first question they ask, 'What's my title?' And the first answer I give them, 'You want to write chairman please do.' They find me working with my own hands, checking the toilets how they are, the receiving how it is, tasting the food, cooking with the cook, etc'¦ So no one thinks about the title, we are all one big family. I am not the manager who stays at home and you have to do the rest, I am not like that. I hate the line 'I work for you', two people were fired here because they used that line, we all work together, I can't work without them and they can't work without me. Anything that happens to my team, to their families I am always there for them, I am not talking about finances, that is not the issue, but, It's not like taking the good/happy part of their lives and when they have an issue you ignore them.


In your opinion, what separates 'Sky Egypt' and 'Tabla' from their competition?

The phycology of a clubber or a guest is very simple, it is all about how much he is paying and what he is getting. It is a basic equation that everybody especially men on the table think of. What we do is make the guest think, 'How do these people make money?' then you have a bingo. They are getting shows, entertainment, performers, fire works, food, a place, an ambiance, and security'¦ They have all the services with an average check that is minimal to other places; if you can get your client out with this perception, 'That I took what's worth my money and more.' That's one thing. The other thing is all about service and that is something we lack in Egypt, we are not service cultured. It is all about building a relationship with the team. A lot of people call me and tell me, 'Can we have this waiter serving us?' Of course I don't do this, when they ask me for this I change the waiter, but they were that good that they built this relationship. I don't have to worry about this table, even if this waiter doesn't serve them well, they will accept it, if there is any deficiency, they will let me away with it. Also, it is all about the type of music, when do you play what track? What type of entertainment are you giving? The setup of the venue? People need to feel impressed and relaxed, that is the key for 'Sky Bar' and 'Tabla'.


What inspired you to start 'Dan-adverts'?

I used to work with 'Tarek Nour Advertising'; I was the head of out doors that was my last position there. When I left, I wanted to do something on my own. I have a talent in this area; I have an eye for different location so I started 'Dan-adverts'. There are a lot of several companies that have bigger locations than us, but when you look at the portfolio, you know that we only have the prime locations.


Your door selection is one of the strictest selections in Egypt, why?

One of the objectives I want to deliver is to let your husband, your boyfriend, your father and your brother to send you to 'Tabla' with no worries. This is very hard to achieve and I interfere personally in ever issue and I am around all night looking at people. If I see somebody trying, I look at your reaction, if you accept, it is not my problem, if you turn your face somewhere else, I go to the person and talk to him either you straighten up or kindly leave. There must be an appropriate mix in the place, people who I know their behaviours in the club. With experience, with a lot clients'¦ We established a database, and we know if these people are Ok to be in or not. A nightclub is a place where people can drink, so there could be a 1% of misbehaviour, and I don't want to give the tools or possibilities. The attitude in the door is a very important thing; it depends on how they react at the door. If they are aggressive, it means they have the tendency to be aggressive during the night, so you just want to cut back. One of the stories about the rules and regulations is that my cousin has not been talking to me for the past three years because I closed the door; I went in, he came late, and I didn't let him in. Every one who comes to 'Tabla', I know very well, they are my friends. There is a certain capacity and I don't want to upset anybody, so if the place is full I go in and if I am in the door is closed.


You established 'Tabla' Sokhna, 'Tabla' Sahel, why did you choose Dubai to be your next step?

Dubai is very cosmopolitan, very systematic and has easy operation. People did not get the concept of 'Tabla' in Dubai as I want. People are confused with the name, is it an Arabic club or an English club? So we are changing the name after Ramdan, because it is causing a lot of confusion in Dubai. A lot of Egyptians are there, but they don't support 'Tabla' at all by the way'¦.


Seriously, why?

I learned two lessons in my life. All the people that pushed me to open 'Tabla' Sokhna, through out four years in Sokhna, I saw them maximum three times in 'Tabla'. Don't depend on the people that encourage you and push you, these people are not your clients they will never come. Your clients are the people you don't know. In Dubai, when a Lebanese club opens all the Lebanese back it up big time, they don't go to any other place! I am the first Egyptians that opened a club in Dubai and so far the only one. I can mention two Egyptians out of 365 living in Dubai that are supportive of 'Tabla'. One of them is called Mohamed Nour, this guy is so supportive of 'Tabla', every single night he leaves nice parties and come to 'Tabla', he belongs to Tabla and I will never forget this for him. Other Egyptians are not supporting 'Tabla' what so ever and some of them are bad mouthing 'Tabla'. You know when you hear how Egyptians treat each other when they are in a foreign country, that's exactly what you get in Dubai. Surprisingly, they are very regular clients in 'Tabla' Egypt, but I categorize them now and I know who is loyal and who is not, which is fine, we built another client base there.


In your opinion what is the reason behind the expansion of clubbing in the recent years in Egypt?

There is no expansion. Egypt is so underrated in this field, we can handle another ten clubs minimum, but no one is taking the step to do it. Even as investors, you can get people to manage it but a lot of people are not investing in this field, there are a lot of potentials there, but we need to open up for a different category of people. There are very good, nice people that we don't know and they are ready to come, but no body took the initiative to do something for them.


Then, what do we miss?

Guts and people with their brains on their shoulders, but again everybody is targeting the same crowd. We need to get out of the box and target different crowd.


My Yacht in Sokhna


What's new this summer?

The venue is fabulous. It is the first venue with 360 degrees screening. The entertainment is breath taking. We are introducing something called hot Wednesdays in 'Tabla', international DJs from all over. We are introducing a type of music that was not done in Egypt properly. We are doing underground music, Hip Hop and R&B for four weeks in 'Tabla' Sahel. We are also opening 'Sky Egypt' in Cairo.